Time to Get Your Piezoelectric Panties Twisted

The tempest of mobile consumer electronics that swept the planet these last twenty-odd years carved out a niche that remains unfilled. Despite the fact that my iPhone can teach me a foreign language, double as a police scanner, or help me perform CPR, I still have to plug it in at the end of the day. There is some irony in that mobile devices’ need for power can be a constraining force on our mobility. Working towards a solution to this conundrum, researchers from Berkeley created a pattern of interlacing nanofibers that generates electricity when stretched or twisted. When eventually incorporated into clothing, it’s believed this array of threads will create the mobile power station needed to meet the energy demands of tomorrow.

Clothing that efficiently generates electricity has been a pipe dream for some time. With the exception of kinetic watches, not many success stories come to mind. Piezoelectric nanotechnology (nano-scale materials that generate an electrical current when subjected to mechanical stress) was limited in the past to single fibers or the occasional braided segment. The folks at Berkeley developed a method of weaving these nanofibers into a grid with each thread 50 micrometers apart.  The resulting fabric contains the optimal pattern of threads for generating power from motion. Testing determined the energy transformation rate to be an impressively high 12.5% on average. Made from organic polyvinylidene flouride, each fiber has a diameter of 500 nanometers.  That’s less than one-hundredth the width of a human hair. Needless to say, they are tiny enough to seamlessly integrate into normal fabric. The researchers found that the smaller the fiber, the greater the efficiency of the transformation of kinetic energy to electrical. The lower limit on this relationship is unknown, and it is not unforeseeable that future designs may be considerably more efficient. In stress tests, they stretched and twisted the fabric once every other second for a hundred minutes with no noticeable damage or degradation to the material. The technology still has a ways to go before we’ll see it in consumer clothing, but it’s definitely headed there.

The demand for mobile power generation is here.  There is such a market for it that the potential profitability has investors salivating. Between the researchers at Berkeley and the rest of the piezoelectric community, I expect to see rolling breakthroughs in this technology for some time.  It might be a decade before nanofiber costs become negligible, but I believe that power generating clothing will be available for a premium within a few years.  Whether jacking in to your jacket or plugging into your pants, the days of being tethered to the electrical grid by your mobile device are limited.


~ by Wil Finley on February 16, 2010.

One Response to “Time to Get Your Piezoelectric Panties Twisted”

  1. See… and I’ve always been jacking into my pants…. I knew i was screwing something up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: